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This is a very explosive issue, so I hope that

  1. Everyone who participates in the answer will remain as objective as possible, no troll please
  2. The mods need to ensure that tt stays open

My friend, who is not particularly anti-semitic, told me that Israel is an illegitimate country because the Jews took over Palestinian's land by force. In other words, they were conquerors, they were invaders, and hence they have no rights to build a country of their own on the very soil they conquered.

So, my questions are:

  1. Did the Jews took over the Palestinian's land by force, as my friend claims?
  2. If yes ( or no), did that make Israel as a country legitimate?
  3. Corollary to 2, how can we tell whether a country is legitimate, given that there are a lot of opinions out there? Is there an objective measure for this?
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Pieter Geerkens, choster, Yannis Rizos, Mark C. Wallace, Sardathrion May 29 '14 at 10:44

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This is a perfectly legitimate and objective question! Why anyone would want to close it? –  Graviton May 29 '14 at 5:46
Perhaps you ought to start with question 3... –  Felix Goldberg May 29 '14 at 5:53
Both 2 and 3 are questions with objective answers, are they not? –  Graviton May 29 '14 at 5:55
The problem with 2 is that it presupposes a known and agreed definition of "legititmate country". –  Felix Goldberg May 29 '14 at 6:17
Not a history question –  Mark C. Wallace May 29 '14 at 8:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

1/ Considering various stages in the Foundation of Israel and the current situation.

(a) Immigration in the mandate - The immigration of Zionist settlers was enforced by British Mandate authorities against clear will of the vast majority of the population. The immigration in the end was backed by British bayonets. No native population would shave accepted the immigration of outsiders intent on setting on their own state. However the League of Mandate included the Balfour declaration and gave the British the authority to run the Mandate.Legal by International Law.

(b) The Partition The UN voted to create the States of Israel and Palestine. (the UN Vote had a lot of arm binding going on was this violence or force?) Accepted UN resolution. Legal by International law.

(c) The annexation of areas out of allocated partition state in 1948/9. This is complicated. The Arab states also annexed much of the proposed Arab state (and indeed the quashing of any Arab independent state in Palestine was part of the Motivation for the intervention of Arab states.) Grey never really tested, but generally Israel has been recognised with those borders by the UN and the international community. Legal by International law.

(d) The Occupation of the west bank. There is a UN resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from the west bank. What this means is pretty hotly debated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_242

(e) Israeli settlements in the west bank. Are illegal under international law. Almost all of the international community, the UN GA, the UN SC, the Red Cross, and the International Court of Justice all agree they are illegal, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_law_and_Israeli_settlements

(2 & 3) Many other Nations were formed by colonial invasion seizure by force. Is the USA, Canada, Australia illegitimate nations? International law comes done to recognition and acceptance by the rest of the world. By this measure, Israel is a legitimate nation.

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Palestinian land was taken by a combination of:

  • force (see the many documented cases of forced eviction and destruction of villages)
  • business acumen (buying Palestinian land from rich landlords who lived elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire)
  • refusing to do business with Arabs (letting previously bought property, employing) unless it was in the interest of the settlement in Jews

For the legitimacy, you need to start by defining legitimate, as some said in the comments.

By what may be the standards of many (if you grew up with "it's bad to take from other people") most states in the world are illegitimate. At some point some group kicked another group out or took control of it by force, sometimes you have to go back to antiquity, sometimes it's more recent (settlement of the Americas for example).

What happened in Israel is a special case. It has to do with almost a century of planning and "lobbying" from Jewish leaders in Europe, and was possible because they are "Jewish" (some Christians thought/think the idea of returning Jews to biblical land is romantic / some more extreme ones believe it fulfils biblical prophecy).

It is internationally recognised on the grounds that it is a "special case". I don't think you would have much success arguing that the same should be done about the USA and the native indians, or Australia and aborigens.

By the standard of world history, what happened in that region is business as usual. By more modern standards, perhaps it shouldn't be happening like that anymore.

Also if you want to take it down to realpolitik, look at Israel's geographical position on the map, try to figure out why some who don't particularly care about the Jews want a "special unwavering friendship" with it. It conveniently splits the Arab world in two, between two/three traditional centres of Arab power (Egypt, Syria, Irak). The presence of Israel in the region may sometimes help thwart Arab attempts at unity (Nasser pan-Arabism), independence from Western imposed policies (Syria, Irak, non-Arab Iran) and helps keep some Arab states in-line with Western interests. It's no secret that Israel has the first or second most competent secret services in the world and they work very closely with the US secret services.

At the end of the day, no state is legitimate or illegitimate. It depends if you can impose your legitimacy or not, and if you have enough special friends who will defend your legitimacy. What matters is how the masses of people perceive you today, not what international lawyers or historians argue about.

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One thing is unclear to me: how did Israel prevent a pan-Arabic state from happening? When and how exactly? –  Felix Goldberg May 29 '14 at 16:00
@FelixGoldberg I was referring to Nasser's attempt with the United Arab Republic. But actually it is a stretch to say the blame should be put on Israel. It's hard to imagine Israel wouldn't have done everything it could to prevent successful union, but there are many other factors at play (starting with Arab leaders incompetence). Editing my post to reflect that better. –  Juicy May 29 '14 at 23:33

In 695 CE Jerusalem was conquered by Arabs, so that stayed Muslim country till the end of WW1. Authority of the Israel was transferred over Ummayid Caliphate that was inherited by Abbasid Caliphate and Crusaders. By 1260, the area had been taken over by Mamluk sultanate. In 1516, the area was conquered by Ottoman Empire, so it remained Muslim country. In October 1918, the Ottoman Empire capitulated and some areas were split by Great Britain and France. Great Britain got control over Palestine and so-called "Mandatory Palestine" was established. In 1916 Foreign Secretary of Great Britain wrote a letter to Walter Rothschild in which he says:

His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

In 1947 UN Resolution 181 Mandatory Palestine was split by Israel and Palestine. On 14th of May 1948 Israel declared it's independence which wasn't accepted by Arabs in Palestine. So there were Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 , 1956 , 1967. and 1973. and there was established PLO in 1964. In 1993. they engaged peace in Oslo, but conflicts are still going on and Israel is fighting with second intifada.

So answer to your questions are that Israel is internationally recognized state and it is not illegitimate, but you may say that after more than 1300 years Jews took control of some parts of Palestine.

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